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Christian Villagers Again Beaten, Threatened

Police assigned to protect Durbachari for three months pull out after only a week.

7/18/07 Bangladesh (Compass Direct News) – Islamic radicals in a Bangladesh village have meted out more beatings and death threats to Christians after a special police force meant to offer protection for three months withdrew after only a week.

The Islamic extremists in Durbachari village, Nilphamari continued their violence against Christians last week.

Moreover, a national newspaper on Sunday (July 15) printed an article about the Nilphamari Christians, clearly naming – and thus targeting – the Rev. Albert Adhikari as a key advocate for Christians in the area.

The article quoted the leaders of three prominent Islamic groups, who called for a ban on the activity of Christian individuals, churches and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) throughout Bangladesh .

Violence in Nilphamari district arose after 41 Muslim converts were baptized in a river on June 12. Two weeks later, on June 26, Muslim villagers attacked and severely beat Christian converts in Durbachari village. On June 27, they gave the Christians a 24-hour deadline to leave the village or face further beatings and the destruction of their homes.

Last-minute intervention from local officials provided temporary relief; officials also agreed to station a special police force in the village for three months. (See Compass Direct News, “Officials in Bangladesh Offer Protection for Attacked Converts,” July 3.)

Christian Bound, Beaten

When Adhikari paid a repeat visit to Durbachari on July 11, he expected conditions to be vastly improved. He soon learned, however, that the special police force assigned to the village had withdrawn after only a week.

He also learned that Muslim villagers had seized a local Christian, known only as Hatem, the previous night (July 10). They beat Hatem, a fruit salesman, and questioned him about his conversion from Islam before binding him with ropes and leaving him in a food storage area overnight.

When Hatem’s friends phoned the village chairman on the morning of July 11 and asked for help, the chairman intervened and Hatem was released at around 11a.m.

Adhikari later visited Hatem and found him lying in bed, covered with bruises.

The Christians were also suffering the effects of social ostracism. Soon after the baptism, villagers had banned them from using the village well. This left them no option but to carry water from a river about 600 meters away from the village, but the contaminated river water had left both adults and children with serious stomach problems.

A Christian NGO provided enough funds for Adhikari to buy four tube-wells for the Christians. But when the tube-wells were purchased, none of the Muslim residents of Durbachari were willing to help install them, forcing Adhikari to hire labor from a neighboring village.

Further Attacks, Death Threats

On July 12, Adhikari and a local Christian known only as Sanjoy visited several Christian homes in the area to assess the situation and encourage the believers.

Later that night, as Sanjoy prepared to return home, Christians in the village phoned him and warned him not to return by his usual route, as Muslim villagers were lying in wait armed with sticks and other home-made weapons. Forewarned, Sanjoy took a longer route and arrived home about two hours later.

On Sunday (July 15), Adhikari learned that nine people carrying guns and other weapons had visited the home of another Christian in Durbachari, issuing death threats. Thankfully the believer, known only as Barek, had taken shelter elsewhere in the village and escaped injury.

That same day the Inkelab, a Bengali daily newspaper, published an article calling for a ban on the activity of Christian individuals, churches and NGOs in Bangladesh in response to the events in Nilphamari.

The article quoted the leaders of three prominent Islamic groups, including Mawlana Eusuf Ashraf, leader of the Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, who accused Christian NGOs of converting “the poor and helpless people of Nilphamari in the guise of service.”

Muhammad Abdur Rakib of the Nejame Islam Party accused Christians of converting 41 people in Nilphamari by providing “financial help, loans, jobs and other kinds of temptations.” He further asked the government to ban all Christian activity leading to conversions.

The article also quoted a spokesman from the Islamic Intelligence Front, who claimed “American people” had “a long-term plan to destroy Islam by converting the poor and helpless with financial enticement.” The spokesman added, “To resist such activities is the duty of our faith.”

These claims completely ignored statements from the Christians of Durbachari that they had chosen to convert from Islam of their own free will and not for any material or other inducement.

In light of recent developments, observers say immediate and ongoing intervention is necessary – with both local and national officials enforcing the state’s commitment to religious freedom – to prevent further harm to the Christian minority in Nilphamari and elsewhere in Bangladesh .